Studio Visit: Los Angeles Artist Lisa Williamson Is Reliving Gallery Openings on YouTube and Fine-Tuning Her Paint Palette

The artist is preparing for a show at Tanya Bonakdar's Los Angeles gallery space.

Lisa Williamson 2021, Courtesy the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles.
Lisa Williamson 2021, Courtesy the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles.

Los Angeles-based artist Lisa Williamson is best known for her inventive and visually precise sculptures painted in bright pops of colors and bold patterns.

Often scaled to her own body or surrounding environments, her works almost tempt viewers to engage with them. Looking at her recent “Body Boards” works, which are roughly as tall as a grown person, one can easily imagine pressing, folding, and covering oneself within the sculptures’ shapes.

In the studio, Williamson often experiments with colors and finishes, paying meticulous attention to surfaces while softening and bending the boundaries between painting and sculpture.

Over the past few months, Williamson has been busy in her studio preparing for an upcoming solo show at Tanya Bonakdar’s Los Angeles gallery (the show opens in June). Recently, she offered us a glimpse inside her studio and told us about her favorite radio station and her ocean-inspired mood board.

Courtesy the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles

Courtesy the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles

What are the most indispensable items in your studio and why?

First, electricity, and second, water. Thereafter, a pencil and a pen, 8 1/2 x 11 inch paper, an L ruler, a T square, a tape measure, a step stool, a utility knife, sharp blades, cardboard, tape, sandpaper, gesso, paint, paintbrushes, brush cleaner, a broom, and a dust brush.

Courtesy the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles

Courtesy of the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles

What is the studio task on your agenda tomorrow that you are most looking forward to?

At the moment I am mixing and testing out colors for a series of wall relief sculptures. I get really into this aspect of the work, tuning and calibration, observing the effects of color.

What kind of atmosphere do you prefer when you work? Do you listen to music or podcasts, or do you prefer silence? Why?

Music mostly. NTS radio is an endless trove, a true public service. I also listen to podcasts, audiobooks, news programs. I have to admit to being a big phone talker as well, especially if I’m doing something repetitive or tedious in the studio. I continue to be surprised by how often my brother picks up when I call.

What trait do you most admire in a work of art? What trait do you most despise?

I admire work that embodies a certain conviction of thought, holds a strange resonance, feels unique, and somehow just lands right. It’s hard to put a finger on why an artwork is affecting. I do think there is a kind of will or charge embedded within great works of art—but that can take so many different forms, it’s elusive. I don’t despise any art, there is so much else to feel concerned over. At best I feel a level of disinterest when a work feels thin or vacuous.

Courtesy the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles

Courtesy the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles

What snack food could your studio not function without?

Coffee and water.

Who are your favorite artists, curators, or other thinkers to follow on social media right now?

I’m not that savvy with social media. I mostly use it to catch a glimpse of what friends and family are up to. It’s impressive to see how people have adapted to the many challenges of this last year, how they’ve spent their time, whether hunkered down with their families, delving into their work, participating in activist efforts, or simply trying to live as best as they can during such a tenuous time.

Courtesy the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles

Courtesy of the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles

When you feel stuck in the studio, what do you do to get un-stuck?

In the past when a piece wasn’t coming together for one reason or another, I would keep muscling through until I eventually drove it into the ground. I, and the work, would have benefited from taking space. This seems obvious enough now, but I’m glad that I’ve learned to step back when needed. Things seem to start to click back into place after I sleep or drink a bunch of water or take a walk. A friend that is an artist a few generations older than myself commented about the need for artists to take care of themselves so they can keep making work over time. I try to keep this in mind.

What is the last exhibition you saw, virtual or otherwise, that made an impression on you?

The Ree Morton exhibition at the Institute for Contemporary Art in Los Angeles just before the pandemic. Her work leaves an impression and the exhibition was, to put it plainly, beautiful and moving.

The other night I watched a video on YouTube of a Louise Lawler opening in Chelsea from a few years back. I love her work, which is why I was looking the exhibition up, but within the first minute of the video, I saw three friends from different times and places in my life. It made me realize how much I miss bumping into humans and seeing art in person. I’ve at times felt an aversion towards art openings (like many artists I imagine) but now it seems like such a casual opportunity to stay in touch.

If you had to put together a mood board, what would be on it right now?

Images from the beach—of sea urchins and seaweed, sticks and sand, rocks and waves. My son, my husband, and my dog. Also a lot of FaceTime screenshots.


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